Breaking Free of the Cycle of Anxiety: Step TwoMarch 30, 2022
How Will You Remember to Use Your Tools?April 13, 2022
***The content in this post is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional mental health treatment.***
You are aware that this unease you are feeling is related to anxiety as described in step one. You have done a reality check for immediate concerns as described in step two. Now let’s talk about how to manage your anxiety in each of these three scenarios so that you can strengthen your resilience.
There are many strategies. I will share a few. Experiment with ideas to see which work best for you. The goal is for you to find a short list of things that work and then to remember to use them.
You do a reality check and realize that there is a problem. A challenge here is that you become so anxious that you freeze or panic. It takes courage to decide that something must be done, particularly if there are people around you that are dismissing your concern. You may not be sure what to do.
Take a slow breath and exhale all the way. Then reach out to someone – immediate danger might require 911. If not then consider your resources. Other people have navigated a similar crisis; call a friend, mentor, or professional (doctor, lawyer, therapist). If you are not sure where to start, there are resource lists maintained by hotlines, and the crisis text line (Text “hello” to 471471).
Some strategies to consider:
- Give yourself permission to be wrong. “I may be overreacting, but I want this checked out.” It is ok to be wrong.
- Act even if you feel fearful. Courage is doing something even when you feel afraid.
- Start with the smallest step that will help you be more safe, grounded, or connected. A big problem may take many steps; start with one.
- Ask for what you need from healthy people. If they are not helpful, ask different people.
- Know that you are not alone. Someone else has been down this path and has ideas that will help you.
You have a real concern, but it doesn’t need immediate action. You are very worried about this thing (job, finances, relationships, health), but there is nothing you need to do about it right now. Your anxious thoughts keep circling, distracting you from the things you do need to get done.
Write down your concern in some detail. Particularly when the outcome is so awful you don’t even want to think about it. This allows you to listen to the scenario your brain is building inside your head. It will help you separate what you need to address and what you can dismiss.
- Once you have it in writing, do something else for at least 30 minutes. Get something done that needs done today, then come back to your concern.
- Consider when you need to address it and schedule a time to do so. Set an alarm or schedule an appointment to talk about it. When your brain circles back to it, remind yourself – “yes, I have that on my schedule.”
- If you are catastrophizing, “this situation is going to end in disaster,” address this directly. Ok – let’s pretend for a minute that the disaster happens. Now what? You have gotten through difficulties before, how will you address this one? What is your Plan B?
- Plan B – What if this all goes badly? What are my options? Who might know what to do?
- Challenge your anxiety. How likely is it that this will occur? Will this be a major setback or an annoyance?
- Reach out to a good listener, and talk through the whole scenario. This may be a friend, a mentor, or a professional. Ask that they let you talk it all out before offering advice. It can help to say it all out loud so that you can sort out your options.
What if you have decided that your anxious voice is not being helpful? It is all doom and no reality. Or, it is real but it is entirely out of your control. There are times your brain gets stuck in anxious loops that do not help keep you safe or build your resilience. When this happens, explore ways to turn down the volume.
- Use the 5-5-5 rule: will this matter in 5 days, 5 months or 5 years? Think into the future to imagine if this thing will matter. If not, let it go.
- If your brain is imagining terrible outcomes (with no supporting evidence), imagine the exact opposite. Instead of imagining all the ways an event might go wrong, imagine all the ways it might be great.
- Take a deliberate healthy break: drink a glass of water slowly, eat an apple – noticing every bite, walk around the block counting your steps, dance to upbeat music for 10 minutes.
- Do a task involving numbers or counting. The brain has difficulty doing logic and strong emotion at the same time. Play sudoku, practice multiplication, decide how many coffee mugs (or other objects that don’t fit in their storage space) you really need, count how many you have, and donate the excess.
- Reach out to a friend or better yet, to someone who needs cheering up. Send a text, card, or postcard to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, or who might appreciate a thank you.
When you find yourself anxious today, this week, this month, practice some of these strategies. When you find one that works for you, write it down so you will remember to use it.
Managing your anxiety is one way to build your resilience. Life is ever changing and brings with it amazing opportunities and incredible challenges. By focusing on what you need to do, planning for your future (or several possible futures), and letting go of the stress, you are in better shape to build community with others.